A call to boycott a Tel Aviv screening of a documentary on the life and work of an American social activist leads to allegations of anti-Semitism.
Grace Lee Boggs is a 98-year-old author, activist and feminist. During the course of her more than seven decades of social advocacy, the Chinese-American PhD recipient in philosophy has challenged the cultural barriers that opposed women of color in academia. She has addressed the issues of tenant rights and Trotskyism in America, and became a leading voice focusing on the struggles of the black community.
Focusing primarily on Detroit and working with her late husband, former Detroit autoworker and black community activist James Boggs, Grace Lee Boggs chronicled and participated in the major events and movements affecting the black community over the past half-century and the struggles the community has undertaken to attempt escape from racial oppression.
When it was announced that “American Revolutionary: the Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” a documentary on Boggs’ life and work, would be shown at the DocAviv International Documentary Film Festival in Tel Aviv, Boggs and many others who support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel — including left-wing activist and actor Danny Glover — were not pleased.
In a statement published by Electronic Intifada, Boggs, Glover and a number of other activists made clear their frustrations with the documentary being screened in a territory that is actively engaged in its own form of racial oppression.
“We immediately took action to have the film withdrawn from the festival,” read the letter. “The festival organizers and film producers informed us that this was not possible and they would move forward with the screening, over our objections.”
The film festival was scheduled to run from May 13 to 15. The event was supported by the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the city of Tel Aviv and the Tel Aviv port authority and Bank Leumi — which has been criticized for its role in the colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“This film uplifts the life work and legacy of Grace Lee Boggs. She has explicitly stated her support of the boycott and believes this screening is in direct contradiction to her legacy and ongoing work as a revolutionary,” the letter continued.
According to the guidelines of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, events and projects “complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights” is subject to boycott. “The general principle is that an event or project carried out under the sponsorship/aegis of or in affiliation with an official Israeli body constitutes complicity and therefore is deserving of boycott.”
The academic and cultural boycott of Israel is based roughly on the successful academic and cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa. With the American, British and Israeli governments maintaining financial and political ties to the apartheid state until the 1980s, the impetus toward isolating South Africa came culturally — first, through the gradual exclusion of South Africa from international sport, and later, through a full cultural boycott starting in the 1960s. This raised awareness to the point that despite a longstanding relationship between Washington and Pretoria, the United States joined 24 other nations in establishing trade sanctions against South Africa in the late 1980s.
While former South African President F.W. de Klerk argued in his autobiography that the boycott and diversement movement actually delayed the collapse of the apartheid state, many feel that the economic pressures of the loss of international trade sped up change in the country.
Glover’s and Boggs’ letter has earned condemnation from the World Jewish Congress.
“It is time for Hollywood – actors, producers, and others – to speak out against those within their own ranks who demonize Israel and thus fan the flames of anti-Semitism in America and beyond,” said Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, on Tuesday.
“Danny Glover supported a boycott of Israel in 2009, and it therefore comes as no surprise that he does not wish the movie to be screened in Israel. We call on America’s film industry to speak out against the growing campaign to boycott the Jewish state. Just like anti-Semitism, unfair criticism of Israel should be condemned.”
Israel has been condemned for the treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories — which Israel seized in violation of international law in 1967. This treatment, as enumerated by Amnesty International, includes forced evictions, punitive arrests, the use of excessive or lethal force against nonviolent demonstrators, torture and ill-treatment of detainees, unfair trials, the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and restrictions on the movement of, and access to, basic needs, such as water and medical assistance.
Additionally, the Israeli government has moved to segregate the Palestinian people through the construction of a border wall in the West Bank, which Israel claims is necessary to protect Israeli civilians from Palestinian terrorism. Opponents to the barrier argue that the wall attempts to redraw the West Bank boundary — as defined by the 1949 Armistice Agreements — and allow Israel to claim land in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the name of security. The wall — which the International Court of Justice has found to contravene international law — cuts off free movement in the West Bank and prevents Palestinians from seeking work in Israel.